A Piece Offering: Vanity Fair Chief Bids for Old Foe

Ten years ago, a red-hot Tina Brown left Vanity Fair   to become the editor of The New Yorker .

One decade and one failed magazine later , Vanity Fair wants Ms. Brown

back.

Representatives for Ms. Brown and Vanity Fair told Off the Record

that Ms. Brown has been asked to write a column for the same publicationshe

reinvigorated during the 1980’s and tried to challenge with Talk in the

late 1990’s. A spokesperson for Vanity Fair said Ms. Brown’s successor

at the magazine, Graydon Carter, had approached Ms. Brown in February through

Reinaldo Herrera, a Vanity Fair contributing editor and the husband of

designer Carolina Herrera.

She said she’s still figuring out plans,” the spokesperson said, “and will

let us know.”  

Neither Ms. Brown nor Mr. Carter was available for comment. But the Vanity

Fair   spokesperson said the column

would most probably be in the same vein as “Tina Brown’s Diary,” a monthly

series Ms. Brown penned in her last months as editor in chief at Talk .

Writing with a light, occasionally devilish touch, Ms. Brown used the “Diary”

to muse on subjects like Sept. 11, but also to settle scores-notably taking on Tina

and Harry Come to America: Tina Brown, Harry Evans, and the Uses of Power ,

the tell-all biography of her and husband Harry Evans, written by Vanity

Fair contributing editor Judy Bachrach. “The first half of the book is all

about my breasts,” Ms. Brown wrote, referring to Ms. Bachrach’s book as “Bio

Porn.”

Following Talk ‘s demise in January, Ms. Brown’s diaries-which she

says she’s kept since she was 12-became the focus of outside speculation, with

some suggesting they’d be the basis for a lucrative book deal. However, Ms.

Brown dismissed that notion, telling The Observer at the time: “I think

my diary will be something [that,] when I’m 75, when the bailiffs are taking my

furniture out, I’ll cash in then.”

Ms. Brown’s return to Vanity Fair as a columnist would be

strange-akin to David Caruso coming back to NYPD Blue as a desk

sergeant. After all, Vanity Fair might have died in 1984 had it not been

for Ms. Brown, the Tatler editor who took over the magazine at the

behest of Condé Nast’s Si Newhouse and gave it its unique

celebrity-and-society-driven Weltanschauung . Ms. Brown became the first

of a new generation of celebrity editors.

Rejoining Vanity Fair , Ms. Brown would rekindle a relationship with

Condé Nast that ended when she left The New Yorker to start Talk

with Hearst and Miramax in 1998.

“If she was going to write a column in America,” the Vanity Fair

spokesperson said in explaining the overture, ” Vanity Fair is a logical

place to do it.

And when asked if the magazine felt any hesitancy about inviting Ms. Brown

back to the fold, the Vanity Fair spokesperson said, “Not at all. It

seemed like a natural and logical thing to do.”

However, Vanity Fair may have to get in line. Ms. Brown was on

vacation this week, but a Talk-Miramax Books spokesperson said the ex-editor

had also received inquires about writing such a column from Salon, Slate, The

New York Times Magazine and The New York Sun .

Adam Moss, editor of The Times Magazine , declined to comment, and

Seth Lipsky, editor of The Sun , did not return calls seeking comment.

Likewise, Salon editor in chief David Talbot and representatives from Slate did

not respond to e-mails from Off the Record. 

-Sridhar

Pappu

No one ever said Bonnie Fuller was going to have an easy time righting the

ship at US Weekly , Jann Wenner’s entry into the hyper-competitive

supermarket magazine fray.

Ms. Fuller has been on the job for less than a month, and while Wenner

Media executives say they’re thrilled with her progress with the weekly

title-especially her results in newsstand sales-the staff Ms. Fuller inherited

at US Weekly is seriously cranky and badly in need of some shuteye.

Among the US Weekly staff grievances: Ms. Fuller only looks at

hard-copy page proofs and has a penchant for tearing up the book at the last

moment. That leads to their biggest complaint: that the magazine’s closing

times under Ms. Fuller have been brutal, stretching first into the wee hours of

the morning and then, in two subsequent issues, plain old morning .

There have already been some top staff departures since Ms. Fuller took

over. So far, two editors-managing editor Maura Fritz and assistant managing

editor Chad Anderson-have quit US Weekly . Mr. Anderson is moving to

Virginia to work at Richmond magazine, while Ms. Fritz quit without her

next job lined up. Ms. Fritz said that she quit because US Weekly is

“going in a direction that I’m not particularly comfortable with.” Mr. Anderson

had no comment.

p>>Ms. Fuller, the former editor of Glamour and Cosmopolitan, came

to US Weekly after the previous editor, Terry McDonell, left to go run Sports

Illustrated .

Ms. Fuller has her defenders, too. Some at Wenner told Off the Record that

the disgruntled US staffers are merely loyalists to the regime of Mr.

McDonell and editor Charlie Leehrsen, who also left for Sports Illustrated after

he was passed over for the top job at US Weekly . According to these Wenner

sources, these critics are unwilling to give Ms. Fuller a chance.

But the gripers said their beefs with Ms. Fuller are not just the standard

old-staff moaning that happens whenever a new editor comes aboard.

“I don’t think people were so in love with the previous regime that any new

editor would have had a hard time,” said one. “Who cares who runs the magazine

as long as they run it well? I don’t care who likes who-it’s just about trying

to get your job done.”

These sources said the principal problem was that Ms. Fuller-a veteran of

monthlies-was still adjusting to the weekly deadlines at US Weekly . “She

doesn’t get the pace,” said one US Weekly staffer. “With a weekly, you

always have to move forward. And with any page, she’s likely to rip it up at the

last minute.”

But Ms. Fuller chalked up the difficulties to the typical growing pains of

any new editor taking over.

“Whenever there’s some change in routine and a new person in charge, some

of those things can take a little longer,” Ms. Fuller said. “Everybody’s got to

get used to some changes in their routine, but I don’t expect that’s going to

be a continual thing.”

But US Weekly ‘s late closings are getting on some nerves. Before Ms.

Fuller, the magazine would usually wrap up Mondays at midnight, but after a 3

a.m. close on March 11, US Weekly staffers set up an office pool on when

the issue would ship to the printer the next week. One staffer picked 7 a.m., a

guess which was roundly called “crazy” by other staffers.

They were all wrong. That US Weekly -which carried a cover line

“Britney & Justin: It’s Over”-went to the printers on March 18 at 7:45

a.m., sources said. No winner was awarded and the pool carried over to the

March 25 close, with entries stretching as late as 11 a.m.. This time, the staff

overbid: US Weekly closed its March 25 Oscars issue around 9 a.m.,

staffers said.

Ms. Fuller said she hopes that things will get better. “I don’t want to be

here all night,” she said on the evening of March 25. “I think we may have some

more late closes, but I don’t expect it to go on for a huge length of time. For

instance, we’re closing Oscars-and Oscars is always a late close, and

everyone’s prepared for that.”

Janice Min, a former editor at People and InStyle who was

recently hired by Ms. Fuller as her executive editor at US Weekly , said

that if there was confusion among staff, it wasn’t the new editor in chief’s

fault.

“With Bonnie, you leave her office after discussing a story with no

confusion about what she wants a story to be,” Ms. Min said in a phone call

from Uruguay, where she’s on vacation. “And that’s a real skill in a leader.”

Ms. Fuller said she has yet to complete her staff hiring. In addition to

Ms. Min, Ms. Fuller has brought in two editors on a temporary basis: Susan

Wyland, former managing editor of Real Simple , and Erick Levin.

“They’re pinch-hitting,” Ms. Fuller said. “There are a couple open

positions and I need to take some time to fill them, but I could use some extra

help in the meantime.”

Some of Ms. Fuller’s critics inside US Weekly acknowledged that the

new editor does possess a touch that the magazine needs. The true secret of

commercial success for US Weekly  is keeping newsstand sales up, they said-and they pointed to Ms.

Fuller’s track record of writing catchy cover lines that appeal to US Weekly ‘s

audience, which is nearly two-thirds women.

” US Weekly was a magazine mostly for women, top-edited by men who

never liked the subject and who don’t really like women very much at this stage

of their lives,” said a staffer. “Bonnie Fuller gets it. She gets celebrities,

the fashion, the women’s audience that is already there. At least she watches

TV and thinks The Osbournes are cool.”

The disgruntled US Weekly staff will find little sympathy from

Wenner Media senior vice president Kent Brownridge, who said the company was

very pleased with Ms. Fuller, since her early issues have posted  positive numbers. Mr. Brownridge said that

the first three issues under Ms. Fuller have averaged sales of 393,000 on the

newsstands. If she can keep the same pace, that would be a 21 percent increase

over the 325,000 single-copy sales average for the last six months of 2001.

“She’s doing exceedingly well, numbers-wise,” Mr. Brownridge said.

And if that means US Weekly ‘s staff is losing sleep, so be it, said

Mr. Brownridge .

“The old regime didn’t like to work on weekends and liked to go home early

on Monday night,” Mr. Brownridge said. “We’re going to get the latest, best,

juiciest bit of celebrity news in there, and if we have to stay up on Monday

night, so be it.”

-Gabriel

Snyder with Sridhar Pappu

Fresh from the Oscar whirlwind, Variety /i>>  editor in chief Peter Bart had a question: “How many hands can

you aspire to shake in 48 hours?”

That wasn’t our question, however. Off the Record called to ask Mr. Bart if

he was planning to retire.

In his 11 years as editor in chief of Hollywood’s paper of record, Mr.

Bart, 69, has become an undisputed if controversial power player, well known

for his hands-on approach to Variety . When angry people call Variety

reporters, a stock excuse is that Mr. Bart added the offending bit.

But during the 48-hour Hollywood cocktail party that is Oscars weekend, a

rumor spread that Mr. Bart was considering, and may in fact be planning, to

give up some of his control at Variety .

Three sources close to the principals told Off the Record that Tad Smith,

president of the media division at Cahners, the company that owns Variety ,

was recently talking to former staffer Martin Peers, now media reporter at The

Wall Street Journal , about moving back to Variety for a high-level

position.

The job Mr. Smith had in mind, the sources said, was the No. 2 position at Variety .

Mr. Bart would retain the title of editor in chief-and thereby his place in

Hollywood royalty-but Mr. Peers, a former Variety New York bureau chief,

would be responsible for managing the paper on a day-to-day basis.

But the discussions fell apart when Mr. Peers turned down the job, sources

said. One source said that once Mr. Peers began talking to Mr. Bart, the latter

described the job not as top editor in Los Angeles, but as an executive

position in New York.

Whatever happened, none of the three principals would talk about it now,

except to say that everyone is happy where they are.

Mr. Peers said, “I’m not going back to Variety .” Mr. Smith confirmed

that he and Mr. Peers recently had breakfast but wouldn’t say what they

discussed. Of Mr. Bart, he said: “He’s doing a fantastic job. We’re not

recruiting for any particular job- and if we were, it would be Peter’s job to

recruit.”

Mr. Smith and Mr. Bart have had their issues. It was Mr. Smith who

suspended Mr. Bart last August, after Mr. Bart was quoted making derogatory

comments in a Los Angeles magazine profile.

Asked if he was nearing retirement, Mr. Bart said he was not. “I intend to

continue in my role as per usual,” he said.

-G.S.

Pete Hamill, meet the SPACE.man! According to sources at the Daily News ,

the tabloid is closing in on hiring Lou Dobbs, the host of CNN’s Moneyline

and the former face man of SPACE.com, to write a weekly financial-news column.

Negotiations between Mr. Dobbs and the News began with an overture from

the paper’s business editor, David Andelman, and a deal appears close, sources

said. On Tuesday, March 26, Mr. Dobbs, Mr. Andelman and news editor Ed Kosner

were seen having lunch at the Four Seasons.

News

editor Ed Kosner did not return a call seeking comment.

Mr. Andelman and a spokesperson for the News declined to comment. A

spokesperson for Mr. Dobbs at CNN said that “CNN did not dispute” that the two

sides were speaking, but declined to comment further.

-S.P.